Voip & Unified Communications f Jon Arnold hDecember 07, 2016

This is a Good Time to be Working with ShoreTel

That’s the main take-away from the opening keynote at the ShoreTelOne Global Partner Conference, here in Orlando, FL. CEO Don Joos set the tone right away for what partners can expect from ShoreTel heading into 2017, and what I’m seeing is a company with a clear sense of purpose, not just for what end customers need, but also for the kind of company ShoreTel needs to be.

This is an important stake in the ground to communicate, as Don started off with a broader message about how “change makes us feel uncomfortable”. To demonstrate, he asked everyone in the packed meeting space to unlock their mobile devices and pass them to the person on our right. With a wry smile, he rightly exclaimed that it didn’t take long for us to feel uncomfortable.

While change is inevitable with today’s technology, it needs to be embraced, and seen as much as an opportunity as a potential threat. Otherwise, being uncomfortable leads to inertia, and the biggest risk of all is doing nothing when everything around you is changing.

Just as end customers need to embrace change, so does ShoreTel, and that was a key focus of Don’s keynote. For partners to sell ShoreTel with confidence, they need to know that the company has adapted and is on the right side of the innovation curve. Don certainly understands that, and when coming to ShoreTel, his mission was to make it “more than a phone company”. To illustrate how the company has transformed under his watch, he talked about five core shifts:

  1. Their architecture has gone from TDM to IP
  2. Software development has gone from monolithic to modular
  3. Delivery model has gone from onsite to cloud
  4. Consumption model for customers has gone from ownership (Capex) to subscription (Opex)
  5. Network impact has gone from a PBX-based solution to a platform-based solution

These changes aren’t unique to ShoreTel, but they were conveyed in a clear manner that everyone in the room could easily follow. The last shift is really the most important, as Don talked about the solution being a new type of infrastructure that puts a lot of control in the customer’s hands, especially for leveraging APIs to develop applications that are highly specific to their business. This is a big change from just a few months ago, when things over at ShoreTel's were a little bit, well, unclear.

Rather than being “just another application in the network”, this is very much the CPaaS model that’s leading the next wave in the ever-evolving sphere of collaboration. Ultimately, Don sees two levels of value here with ShoreTel; first to be a solution provider to customers, but with that platform to also be an enabler for customers to provide the right applications for their end customers.

This represents a big shift from ShoreTel’s traditional value proposition – and strength – and it remains to be seen whether success will follow. Given all the recent activity for UC players to rush into the CPaaS market, there’s certainly an element related to keeping pace with the market. While the solution addresses needs that established UC offerings aren’t well suited for, the financial viability of these platforms isn’t yet clear.

There’s also a real danger of CPaaS cannibalizing elements of UCaaS, and channel partners will need education to understand how to sell it as well as support it. Furthermore, the leading CPaaS players come from a different world, and channels will also need to learn how to compete against providers they know little about.

To be fair, CPaaS is just one part of ShoreTel’s story, and while the Corvisa acquisition gives them an entree into this space, it’s really not clear yet how important it is for their long-term success. ShoreTel seems to have the elements needed to be successful with CPaaS, but it’s too early to know what that will look like and whether it truly creates competitive advantage. They certainly are having continued success in their sweet spot, but when talking about strategic imperatives, Don stressed the need to become “globally relevant”, and to make deeper inroads with mid-market and enterprise customers, something that was also noted in Gartner's Magic Quadrant report this year.

These certainly represent the best paths to scale the business, but they need the right mix of partners to get there. For partners that have done well with ShoreTel – and there are plenty of those in attendance – and are ready to evolve beyond hosted voice, it certainly is “a good time to be working with ShoreTel”. I don’t know yet whether that speaks to the majority or the minority, but over the next few days, I’ll do my best to find out, and will report back then.

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